DIY

DIY corporate IT procurement


Does having employees pick their own equipment work better for corporate computers and mobile phones? A Wall Street Journal article published Tuesday detailed the growing popularity of DIY procurement, where corporations allow workers to select IT equipment for their use or gain reimbursement for expenses associated with personal IT gear.

There's much to be said for a cafeteria plan equipment purchase; it engenders a greater sense of ownership by the employees, so they take greater pains to preserve the equipment. Letting them choose what they like also leads to greater employee satisfaction and, with more home PCs than business PCs in the United States, many employees already have corporate-equivalent infrastructures at home. The Wall Street Journal notes:

IT departments can trim their budgets by as much as 30% with tech-allowance programs, estimates Craig Samuel, a vice president at tech-services firm Unisys Corp. who has consulted for companies introducing the practice. Though it will likely be years before such programs are widespread, research firm Gartner Inc. forecasts that by the end of 2008 10% of companies world-wide will require workers to provide their own laptops.

While a large corporate IT department can negotiate special pricing, retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. achieve unmatched economies of scale. Throw in the cost of setting up a new computer and support and suddenly the price that companies pay for computers is significantly higher than at retail.

Last year, the U.S. Treasury agents' union proposed they be allowed to use their own gear for telework, and Australia permits tax avoidance on income used by employees to buy IT assets.

Are technology allowances, or DIY purchasing, working within your company? Join the discussion.

17 comments
TechTitan
TechTitan

Who is legally responsible? As an IT director this seems a bit scary, although like a previous commenter posts, I agree and disagree. First, as to the 10% expected to provide their own IT assets, I can't help but wonder what part of the end user community are designers, artists, sales reps, etc. whereby this might be considered standard practice. In any of these cases you may prefer to use personal equipment. In the case of a designer, I know plenty of people that have become masters of particular tools and prefer to work on their own systems- I am one of them. Lord knows I have collected my share of Photoshop & PSP plugins and brushes over the years that could not easily be replaced or configured on my business PC. I also know plenty of sales reps that are expected to provide a notebook and are merely assigned an email address and online tools as part of their sales "tool kit." I do not see any problem here either... BUT... For those of us in the business, healthcare, or IT world, this may not only be risky, but potentially illegal. Who then is responsible to keep the privately owned PC under compliance? Who is responsible for maintenance costs, damage, warranty issues (hey, even my car insurance won't pay a claim if it the accident happened while under "business or work" activities)? What about software licensing, security, and access by other users? Is the IT policy thrown out the window? Hmmm, makes you wonder who we should be asking- the IT folks or the legal department. I do however, see some merit in making allowances for other items- cell phones, PDAs, and other peripherals. Security considerations aside, personal preference may actually trump technical consideration. If the user loves it, they will probably use it more- all the better for the company. A last comment- my personal philosophy is that an employee should never have to pay for any company asset. That's not to say an employee is devoid of the choice to use a personal tools to improve a task, but it should never be forced. This leaves one of three options- 1- buy it for them, 2- let them select the item to be paid for by company funds, 3- or my personal favorite, let them choose from a pre-selected set of products that work for the interest of the company and the end user. This way there is some standard of maintenance and functionality, while maintaining a degree of personalization and choice for the end user.

cdiazb
cdiazb

I don't know of how many computers we are talking about but as a computer tech I want (for service reasons) that all PC shoul be hardware and software identical so my faithful "GHOST" can be used any time.

royhayward
royhayward

I worked at a place once where the IT departments solution to any and all problems was to ghost our machines. And so I may have just a bit of a sore spot so please don't take all of this as directed at you. Ghost or other drive imaging is great when you are doing massive deployments or where you need to replicate a machine, but it is not the real solution to most issues any more than rebooting really 'solves' the problem. I know that for a harassed and under staffed help desk tech, they might think of ghost as their best friend. But when we just ghost away a problem without understanding it at least a little, we are inviting it to come back. It may make you look good the first time, by saying, "I can have your laptop back in 20 minutes." But if even if the user doesn't need their data back, when they come back in two days because something that they need to do to do their jobs has a side effect that hoses their PC, well they will be less than happy with the, lets start over 'again' attitude.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

There are many methodologies to troubleshooting problems, and using Ghost to re-image a machine should not be considered one of them. I have worked with Ghost for more than 9 years, and it has never been the first step in resolving an issue, but rather a last resort. But there are situations that warrant re-imaging a machine. Generally by the time I re-image a machine I have a clear understanding of the issue, and I know that it is not recoverable because system files have been altered, overwritten, corrupted, etc. And when they get it back it has all of the applications and tools necessary to do their job (assuming I have access to this software to install it for them) and this would include their data if at all possible. I realize that I run the risk of sounding condescending here, and it?s not my intention. But there are people who understand the troubleshooting process, and those that don?t. With the exception of serious time constraints, if someone leans too heavily on re-imaging a machine to fix a problem, they may not be all that good at troubleshooting. Please understand that I take a great deal of pride in my work, and how I represent my department. I have worked with ?technicians? who should really be in another line of work, so I can understand your point. The point of view for a tech is, or should be, all about keeping the users up and running, or getting them up and running ASAP with the least amount of disruption. From a business standpoint, the concern is down time. Having an employee who can?t do their job because their PC is down, and paying a technician to wonder down some garden path chasing rainbows and butterflies trying to fix a problem that is not repairable at the same time, that is a worst case scenario. And to me this all ties together with the subject of this thread. Standardized hardware, standard image, standardized support. All of this adds up to a much more efficient use of the companies resources and people?s time.

citysleuth
citysleuth

I worked in a global organization as head of infosec for 9 years. The biggest headaches we had were caused by allowing employees to buy their own PDA's, laptops and other stuff on company credit cards. Imaging doing a security product rollout for hard disk encryption: Vendor: what type of laptop spec do you have? Me: Um, everything. Vendor: What about the OS, can we assume XP Pro SP2 as the base? Me: Er, I don't think we can rule out some of the legacy stuff. Vendor: What sort of legacy stuff? Me: Er, PDP1123+ (only joking here - but only just). Then there's the issue of ownership: Employee: "I'm leaving the company tomorrow and taking all this stuff I bought". "But you've got all our customer data on that thing". "Too bad. Its mine. Seeya sucka". My FIRST rule of IT Security: If you don't control and limit the diversity of your tech inventory - IT will control you. My SECOND rule: How the heck can you secure systems and devices you don't know actually exist? Game over. My THIRD rule: Don't do it. Users don't call all the shots - at least not for dumb reasons like, er the color, my brother sells them etc. And if they do, you're dead already. My FOURTH rule: Don't do it.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

You bring up several interesting points, not the least of which is the fact that the company owns the equipment. Therefore, the company has the right to control what brand, configuration, software installation, the data on the PC, and most anything else you can think of related to the computer and whats on it. From a support stand point it is difficult if not impossible to troubleshoot problems when you have potentially thousands of variations on the setup of the PC. We find ourselves reminding people fairly often that the PC belongs to the company, not them. For anyone interested that deals with a multitude of models, types and makes, you should check out Binary Research and the Universal Imaging Utility (UIU). The long and short of it: They maintain a database (about 500mb) of base drivers for pretty much anything you can think of. If it isn't there, they can add it. It uses sysprep to prepare the image. You then create an image after it's been applied, and put that image on whatever you want. The first time it's booted up it's like a preinstall of XP (or 2k) and it loads whatever drivers it needs. There are certain conditions that create more complicated scenarios, but for the most part it's pretty straight forward. We now have one image that replaces what were 18, based on models, types, and configurations (laptops, desktops, small form factors). You can get more info, details, and a demo copy to try, at www.Binaryresearch.net and/or www.uiu4you.com. And "no" I don't get a kick back even if you could tell them I sent you. So I really don't care if you look into it or not, it just makes life a lot easier when your trying to maintain a standard image. Licensing runs about $15-$20 per seat depending on the quantity. The tech support is impressive to say the least. Very knowledgable and helpful.

K7AAY
K7AAY

Is your company using, or considering, allowing employees discretion (within limits) in the selection of IT equipment they will use, or reimbursing for the use of employee-owned equipment and services?

jgaskell
jgaskell

As an IT consultant I would strongly encourage everyone to do this and boost my billable hours trying to sort out the whole ungodly mess.

royhayward
royhayward

If you can't be part of the solution, there is good money to be made in perpetuating the problem.

Gennady
Gennady

My company does allow employees to choose a model from a list of comparable models. they have two 'classes' depending on complexity of tasks you do and within your class ("standard" or "advanced") you can choose a model from a list of 10-12 competitors. all models are about the same price and their configuration is pre-negotiated with the vendors. there is a web site where you can see all the specs, a really professional site, with all the specs and benchmarks. if you need some special configuration that costs more, you need an approval from your manager.

royhayward
royhayward

As a tech savvy IT worker, I would be excited to have the company let me pick my own equipment. And I am pretty sure that I would have no more calls for support than I do now. (most of those involve correcting domain permissions and access privileges.) But I work with others in the industry, who have a few more run-ins with the support folk. They hose their profile, and mess up their IP settings going to home and work with their laptops. These people would probably be intimidated by being asked to select their own hardware. And I am sure that the cost of their support would increase. So in the end, I have to say this is a bad idea. 1. The small benefit that I and others like me would receive would mostly be a coolness feeling benefit, and not really a productivity benefit. 2. The loss of productivity for the poor user that picked out equipment that they now can't get standard support for will be an increase of what we see today. 3. The increase of the time to resolution or loss of productivity for Help Desk or Desktop support staff will more than negate any savings and they will lose the coolness benefit when they see how much work this program is costing them.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson

You are of course right, which is why you can add value by providing that expertise for those in your organisation that don't want to know the difference between Type A and Type B widget. Now you have two happy groups of users; the choosers who get to choose and the frightened who get their hand held. And you avoid being blamed by either set for "getting in the way".

royhayward
royhayward

I feel that I am of two minds on this issue. I want the choice, for me, and others who mostly support their own environments regardless of the choice. But I spent a few years in the beginning of my career answering phone calls from users that had made bad PC hardware choices. So when the IT management makes a decision that is like, "everyone will have the same brand of laptop, and desktop except where allocated for specific development or testing projects." I understand where they may be coming from. The trick with having the choosers and the .... ?end users? .... is that many people will fancy themselves able to make the choice, and then being in over their head and causing the problems and waisted time the IT management wants to avoid. And having a litmus test or interview to determine one's savvy-ness on computers may be insulting and demoralizing to the point that we haven't gained anything. So I guess I am back to the beginning. A nice idea, but I can't see a way to make it work.

ywn
ywn

I have been working in the callcenter enviroument and destop support structure for a long time and we went from a fixed set of PC to having people choos their own. I suppose it depends on the type of people that work at the company but now I have a very expencive peace of equipement and it's not giving troubles at all instead of the prebuild cost saving option from HP / Dell / Compaq! It will defnitly be better for the support team to suppoer only one build but if they know what they doing they will manage!

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

With over 1000 users to support, we currently have a "best practices", standard image environment. The hardware is as standardized as possible, and the options are limited. Our environment is impressively stable, and support costs are lower due to the consistency. Troubleshooting is streamlined because there is a known "state", with the OS, hardware, drivers, etc. 5 years ago we used machines that had been purchased which meant there was a variety of models and manufacturers. There was no standard image, and troubleshooting was complicated by the lack of a standard set up. Our ticket queue went from an average of 100+ tickets, to an average of 25. If employees were to purchase their own equipment, their decisions would likely be based on whatever the trend is, as opposed to what meets the requirements of their computing needs. We research our options before every lease return cycle, would end users be as careful and cautious? Based on past experience, I would think that support costs would increase. Would this be more than the offset of the purchased equipment? Would purchased equipment be cheaper than leased equipment? What would people do a year later when their equipment becomes "outdated"? These are questions that will be answered by trials and tribulations of the companies that try this approach. I have a feeling that I know what the conclusion will be.

Anthony Waters
Anthony Waters

Having end users choose their own gear would only really work if they were only able to choose from a set of equipment that has been preapproved by the IT department. If everyone can just go out and get whatever they want then there will be problems with drivers, os levels, antivirus, security, etc. The cost to maintain the PCs would go up as the IT support staff would have to learn about additional makes and models. If the end users feel as if the equipment belongs to them, then they will then think that they can install whatever they want which will lead to an entirely new set of problems. Look no further then the windows smart phones and blackberries. I worked at a place that allowed end users to pick whatever phone they wanted BUT then the IT staff had to support the windows applications (mostly just the email portion). We only had to support 3 -4 models, but there were major differences in hem and it led to a lot of wasted time learning about each new model. eventually it was standardized to a blackberry model and 2 smart phone models, which did make it easier. Imagine the support nightmare when you have 10 users with 10 different PCs ranging from something they built themselves to a MAC. So I am for letting users choose their own equipment only if they choose from an approved list AND only if the equipment is still provisioned and processed by the IT department. Now, there is one thing that may or may not be a solution and it wasn't touched upon in the article. If the end user is connecting to some sort of terminal service and only acting as a client, then possibly it would not really matter what gear they use.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

You basically added to, and/or completed my train of thought. It is simply more difficult, not impossible, just more difficult and not very cost effective to have a wide array of equipment and configurations in use. In addition, I have always seen it as part of my job to help determine what type of equipment is necessary to meet the needs of the end user (ie hard drive space does not equate to "memory"), without wasting money on systems more elaborate than necessary. And the point about the free for all of software installation is a key point. That causes more chaos and problems than most non technical people can imagine. It's an interesting concept, but I think it would make most techs who have worked in large corporate structures cringe.